of the Day
- January 11, 2010
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From LA Times
It's not Harry Reid who should be apologizing
His remarks about Obama, however indelicate, carried an unfortunate truth. The real scandal is comparing him to Trent Lott, as Republican Michael Steele did.
by Sandy Banks
January 11, 2010
Harry Reid doesn't owe me an apology.
Sure, it was a little odd to see the term "Negro" used outside of a history class or documentary. Sounds like Reid is stuck in the last century.
But the Senate majority leader didn't say anything many Americans -- especially us Negroes -- don't already know.
If you're black, it is easier in this country to be light-skinned.
That's borne out not just by anecdote and experience, but by research documenting favorable treatment for fair-skinned blacks in criminal cases, employment prospects, even social and romantic liaisons.
Studies have shown that darker-skinned blacks are more likely to be unemployed, earn less and hold lower-prestige jobs. In the criminal justice system, convicted murderers with "stereotypically black" features are more than twice as likely as light-skinned defendants to receive death sentences from juries.
Don't blame Reid for the preference. Blame bigotry. Blame history.
The legacy of fair-skinned favoritism in this country has its roots in slavery. Light-skinned blacks tended to be slave owners' progeny, and to be offered education, land and access to broader society.
Those advantages persisted for generations, spawning a light-skinned elite that still has more crossover appeal.
Obama came by his light skin and dialectical flexibility differently -- as a biracial, bicultural son. But he's a political beneficiary of our color-conscious society; to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.
Reid was stating a fact, however indelicate and impolitic.
Obama's appearance and avoidance of "Negro dialect" -- except when reaching out to blacks -- allowed white voters to feel comfortable with his politics and his intellect. He seemed more like them than like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson; less threatening, more like a guy you'd have over for dinner.
Reid expressed regret this weekend "for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans," with comments he made in 2008 that only now have come to light.
But I don't know why I should be offended.
If anyone is insulted, it should be whites -- whom Reid accused implicitly of being willing to vote for a black man only if he talks like them and is not too black.
I think the next apology ought to come from Michael Steele -- the light-skinned, dialectically flexible African American head of the Republican National Committee.
Steele has called for Reid to step down as majority leader, likening him to Trent Lott, the former Mississippi senator rebuked in 2002 for saying he was "proud" that his state had supported a segregationist candidate in the 1948 presidential election.
That candidate was Strom Thurmond, who famously declared during his White House campaign: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches."
Either Steele is playing politics with a combustible case, or he thinks Americans are so incapable of thinking intelligently about race that we can't tell the difference between Lott and Reid.
Now that offends me.
China's 'black jails' shove complaints into the dark
The illicit detention facilities are a way for authorities to deal with a flood of petitioners seeking justice before regional panels. Human Rights Watch says detainees face rape and other abuses.
by John M. Glionna
January 11, 2010
Reporting from Beijing
Using a crude sawed-off stick as a cane, Shi Yaping waited outside a government office, competing with a throng of petitioners to air her grievance over a neighborhood dispute.
The 59-year-old had traveled here from the central province of Hubei to take advantage of a centuries-old Chinese custom that grants citizens the right to bring unsettled complaints to a regional panel of inquiry.
Yet Shi knows well the perils of speaking her mind in China, where undercover police and mercenary thugs wait to pounce. She has twice been snatched off the street, held incommunicado on the assumption that she would eventually abandon her cause and go home.
Shi is a victim of the secretive realm of "black jails" -- unlawful detention facilities that have sprung up across China to discourage persistent petitioners considered pests by government officials.
Each year millions of rural Chinese bring their problems to functionaries in Beijing and other cities. Yet very few of their cases are ever resolved, and most end up in legal limbo, activists say.
But the torrent of cases clogs the civil system, and puts political pressure on administrators to settle them. Activists say lower-level officials have responded with organized kidnappings in which petitioners -- many plucked from the streets outside government offices -- are held in clandestine jails in state-owned hotels, nursing homes and psychiatric centers.
The theory: You can't lodge a complaint if you don't show up.
"The Chinese petitioning system is completely broken," said Phelim Kine, an Asia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch. "And the government is outsourcing its problems to a thuggish black industry."
Since 2003, the illegal jail network has grown as top Communist Party officials looked the other way, and thousands of petitioners disappeared.
Shi arrived in Beijing months ago hoping officials would resolve her complaint that local police had illegally arrested her nephew. Instead she has found nothing but trouble.
Shi has been imprisoned twice, taken first by security forces to an isolated stockroom and held for days with 100 other people. She was eventually released with her ailing husband, and then was abducted last summer and held for several weeks at a shabby private home.
Jailers denied her requests for water and a piece of paper to swat away the maddening mosquitoes, Shi said.
Today she continues a petitioning process that dates to China's feudal times.
"The government doesn't want us to speak out about these jails," Shi said. "They're afraid the truth will come out."
In November, Human Rights Watch released a 51-page report titled "An Alleyway in Hell: China's Abusive Black Jails." It cites rapes, beatings, intimidation and extortion as among the abuses.
The report documents 43 cases of petitioners who the authors say were held without official charges or access to their families or legal counsel.
"As China tries to build a functioning legal system, this gnawing black hole for human rights grows right there on the side," said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
After at first denying the jails' existence, the Chinese government recently acknowledged the problem. An article in the December issue of Outlook magazine, which is owned by the official New China News Agency, cited at least 73 black jails in Beijing alone.
The article says an estimated 10,000 people at a time have been detained in hundreds of jails.
The black-jail system reportedly sprang up years ago, after the government abolished another system that allowed officials to jail petitioners they considered threats.
Under the current for-profit system, private jail operators receive $22 to $44 a day per person, increasing the incentive to prolong captivity, according to the Human Rights Watch report. The fees are paid by local officials.
There were "locked steel doors and windows," according to a 53-year-old detainee quoted in the report. "We never left our rooms to eat. [Instead] we were given our meals through a small window space."
For some, being freed brings new trouble.
"You go to Beijing to claim wrongdoing by province officials but you are abducted and sent home," Bequelin said. "Well, who's waiting for you there -- the very people you tried to denounce, which brings on another round of unpleasantness."
The plight of black-jail detainees received more attention last month when a guard at an unofficial detention facility in Beijing was sentenced to eight years in prison for raping a college student who was being held.
Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing law professor and activist who has investigated the jails, said the facilities have evolved to accommodate more detainees and generate more profits.
"We have gone to videotape these places when we learn about them," he said. "We challenged the operators that they were violating the law and were beaten several times."
But Xu keeps up the pressure to help petitioners, who he says have filed 10 million cases in the last few years alone.
"I'm not optimistic," he said. "Millions come to the government for justice. What they get is confinement."
Zheng Dajing, a petitioner and activist who has spoken out about the jails, said he was held for four days last month in a shed attached to a run-down motel in west Beijing.
"I was held in a small room with the door locked from the outside. There was a big iron gate that cut us off from the outside world," he said. "There were guards keeping an eye on us all the time. They didn't beat me. But I was just given green pepper with rice every day for food."
Days after Zheng's release, a nervous-looking motel manager denied that petitioners had been kept there. A provincial official in an office on the top floor said he had never even heard of black jails.
"There are help centers to assist petitioners with no transportation to get back to their homes," said the man, who refused to give his full name. "They're not jails."
On a cold December morning, the government complaint office in south Beijing was besieged by a mass of petitioners, each with a compelling tale of human tragedy.
There was the woman who said she was illegally fired from her construction company job, the man who said he had been cheated out of his savings, the retiree beaten by village police.
And there was Wu Changlian. Wearing a dirty dishrag as a scarf, she produced a sheaf of papers she said documented the abuse by local officials that drove her husband to commit suicide. As she spoke to a reporter, a man identified by others in the crowd as an undercover policeman reproached her. "Do you think they will solve your problems?" he jeered. "Use your head."
Spotting a foreigner, many produced their papers with pleading looks, offering to write down their cellphone numbers. One man said nothing but stuffed his documents into a reporter's knapsack.
Nearby, Shi Yaping was tailed by two imposing men in dark clothes she knew to be state security officers. She also knew that the dreaded freelance bounty hunters could arrive at any moment to whisk her away again.
But Shi didn't care. She wasn't going home, she said. She wasn't going anywhere.
"I'll keep coming back," she said. "They can't chase me away."
MEXICO UNDER SIEGE
Tijuana reels amid a surge of violence
After some gains in Mexico's drug war in 2009, Tijuana has had a bloody turn of events in the new year. More than a dozen people, four of them students, were reported slain in the last week.
by Richard Marosi
January 11, 2010
Reporting from Tijuana
It's been a bloody new year so far in this violence-racked city, leaving authorities stunned and apparently speechless. Three teenagers in school uniforms were mowed down by automatic-weapons fire Wednesday. Another youth was shot multiple times last week as he sat in his car outside his parents' upscale home.
Four people were decapitated, at least 10 people were killed in drive-by attacks, and five people were kidnapped, including two security guards and a prominent businessman.
Just a few months ago, Tijuana was hailed by some as a success story in Mexico's war on drug cartels. Top officials from the U.S. and Mexico, including President Felipe Calderon, praised the city's efforts as a model for the rest of the country.
The city's leading crime fighters -- Army Gen. Alfonso Duarte Mugica and Secretary of Public Security Julian Leyzaola -- were named "men of the year" by Baja California's leading news weekly. Authorities boasted that they were closing in on the city's notorious crime boss, Teodoro Garcia Simental.
Now the bodies are piling up at the morgue again, and authorities appear dispirited by the turn of events. After the drive-by shooting of the three teenagers -- two boys and a girl -- outside their high school, authorities didn't even hold a news conference.
"What are they going to say? They have no answers," said Vicente Calderon, a veteran journalist who runs the local news website Tijuanapress.com .
Narco-violence has flared regularly since early 2008, when war broke out between rival factions of the Arellano Felix drug cartel. That year, the city's homicide toll peaked at 844.
By the middle of 2009, however, the crime rate had receded as the warring gangs were believed to have reached a truce. Mugica, the military commander, paraded captured crime bosses through the Morelos military base downtown, and Leyzaola continued his purge of corrupt officers from the police force.
Mayor Jorge Ramos' "state of the city" speech in November emphasized Tijuana's progress against organized crime and the presentation included video of favorable comments from U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders.
Since December, however, the violence has surged. The rival gangs appear to have broken their truce and are, at times, employing different and deadlier tactics.
Attackers have firebombed police cars and a funeral home with Molotov cocktails. They've shot up a hospital. Women are increasingly targeted. At least two of the recent beheading victims were women, one of whom was left naked outside a cemetery, a narco-message left between her legs.
Although most of the victims remain young men -- typically foot soldiers or drug dealers -- gunmen seem more willing, perhaps deliberately, to kill anyone associated with their targets.
"These acts of violence appear more and more like narco-terrorism," said Victor Clark, the director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana.
In late December, the government seemed to score a major victory. Gilbert Sanchez Guerrero, a former police officer and top lieutenant for crime boss Garcia, was arrested in an early morning raid at his upscale condominium in Ensenada.
His apprehension led to the arrests of at least seven more Tijuana police officers suspected of corruption.
But, as in so many cases in Mexico's battle with organized crime, the blow was followed by another round of bloodshed, including an attack on New Year's Eve, when gunmen broke into a home and killed an elderly couple and two other people.
Last week, 17-year-old Jose Fernando Labastida Fimbres, the grandson of a supermarket magnate, was shot as he sat in his Audi outside his home in a hillside neighborhood. A student at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb, the youth was memorialized by hundreds at a local church.
Two days later, gunmen wielding AK-47s shot dead the three teenagers, who had just finished final exams at Ricardo Flores High School.
Scores of students witnessed the gunmen's car creep up on the teenagers' vehicle and open fire, sending their Jeep Cherokee into an electrical pole as nearby students scrambled for safety.
Though media reports, citing anonymous sources, say Labastida Fimbres and one of the other teens may have had links to organized crime, authorities have made no statements on the motives.
Officials at Ricardo Flores High School, located in a tough east Tijuana neighborhood, do random drug tests and searches of students' backpacks, but teenagers said those precautions aren't enough anymore.
As students lingered outside school last week, many said they choose their friends with great care now and don't get into a car unless they know the person driving it.
"We're scared it could happen again," said Myra Zamudio Guzman, a 17-year-old who saw the shooting.
Through all the recent violence, law enforcement officials have been mostly silent. To some observers, their reticence betrays a sense of impotence. It's as if authorities have exhausted their tough rhetoric, they say.
One of the few government officials who made a public appearance last week was Baja California's secretary of tourism. Oscar Escobedo Carignan announced a public relations initiative to improve the city's image.
The negative portrayals are unfair, he said, blaming the media and citing per-capita crime figures that he said supported his case:
"We [Tijuana] finish with 20 homicides per 100,000 people. Brazil gets 150 homicides, and they get the Olympics."
Former boyfriend used Craigslist to arrange woman's rape, police say
A Wyoming man is accused of posing online as his former girlfriend and soliciting someone to act out a violent sexual fantasy.
by DeeDee Correll
January 11, 2010
Reporting from Denver
The advertisement appeared on Craigslist in early December.
"Need a real aggressive man with no concern for women," read the posting on the Internet classified advertising forum. Its purported author was a Casper, Wyo., woman, whose photo also was posted.
One week later, a man accepted the offer, forcing his way into the woman's home, tying her up and raping her at knifepoint.
"I'll show you aggressive," he allegedly said, according to court testimony.
In fact, authorities say, the woman had nothing to do with the ad. Instead, they say, a former boyfriend had posted it, soliciting her assault.
Such an incident would have been impossible -- or at least much less likely -- 20 years ago, Natrona County Dist. Atty. Mike Blonigen said. "It's probably only possible in our modern age," he said.
For Craigslist, the San Francisco-based website used by millions to sell and barter goods and services, the incident comes after a year punctuated by legal battles over its adult advertisements, as well as the highly publicized Boston slaying of a woman who advertised erotic services on the site.
Last year, Thomas Dart, the sheriff in Cook County, Ill., filed a federal lawsuit accusing the site of facilitating prostitution and urging the court to view it as a public nuisance. State attorneys general also pressured the company to eliminate what they called a "blatant Internet brothel."
Though Craigslist prevailed in the Illinois lawsuit, the website eliminated its erotic services section, replacing it with "adult services" and pledging to review every ad posted there to prevent flagrant prostitution and pornography.
Craigslist also has made headlines for cases of impersonation, including one last year in which a Long Island, N.Y., mother allegedly posted an ad seeking sex and directing men to the mother of her 9-year-old daughter's rival.
The Wyoming case began to unfold Dec. 5. Jebidiah James Stipe, 27, a Carbon, Wyo., native and Marine stationed at Twentynine Palms, Calif., allegedly posed as his ex-girlfriend and placed the ad seeking an aggressive man.
Two days later, she spotted it and contacted the Natrona County Sheriff's Office, as well as Craigslist, which took down the ad.
But Ty Oliver McDowell, 26, from Bar Nunn, Wyo., had allegedly already seen it.
McDowell, an employee of the Wyoming Medical Center's radiology department, e-mailed the address listed in the ad, according to an affidavit in the case.
McDowell later told authorities that he and the woman exchanged instant messages, and she described what she wanted -- "humiliation, physical abuse, sexual abuse," according to investigators -- and gave him her home address.
In fact, authorities say, McDowell was communicating with Stipe.
On Dec. 11, McDowell allegedly went to the woman's home and forced his way inside. He bound, blindfolded and gagged the 25-year-old woman, then raped her as he pressed a knife to her throat, the affidavit said.
Detectives said he told them he thought he was fulfilling her rape fantasy.
McDowell was arrested and charged with first-degree sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary. Stipe was also arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree sexual assault.
A maintenance mechanic who enlisted in the Marines in 2001, Stipe was in the process of being ejected for an undisclosed pattern of misconduct at the time of his arrest, a Marine Corps spokeswoman said.
Documents related to Stipe's arrest have been sealed. But as for the alleged rapist, Blonigen said his state of mind would be central to the case. Though jurors must weigh what McDowell believed to be true, they also must consider how a reasonable, objective person would view the situation, he said.
Blonigen said that although Craigslist officials had cooperated with the investigation, the fact that they published sexually suggestive ads also facilitated the crime.
"If I were king, I'd like to see them not run these personal ads," he said. "This is a debate we've had for a long time: . . . Do we censor the Internet?"
Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal law protects Internet sites from liability for their users' actions, said M. Ryan Calo, residential fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.
"The idea was that these website platforms were truly communities assembled of random users, with no editorial control over what users were doing. Craigslist is like a hotel with millions of rooms, but it doesn't have the ability to figure out what's happening in those rooms," Calo said.
A crime committed through a social networking site is no different than one perpetrated through a newspaper's printed classifieds, he said. Yet Internet-based crimes do make it easier for police to track down suspects because they leave a cyber-trail, Calo said.
But Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County sheriff who sued Craigslist, said the website wasn't blameless. By hosting an adult services forum, "they create this specific place for criminal activity to take place," he said.
As a "good corporate citizen," Craigslist should not involve itself in such business, he said.
Authorities have not said which section of the website published the posting, but Patterson noted that Craigslist had pledged to monitor adult ads.
He said it was unclear whether or how thoroughly it was doing so, and added that the Wyoming incident suggested a lack of monitoring.
"If a woman is putting an ad online saying she'd like to be raped, I'd hope it would be stopped," he said.
From the Wall Street Journal
Bureaucracy Hampers Yemeni Military Effort
Antiterror Leader Says Organizational Shortcomings Are Undermining Foreign Assistance in the Fight Against Al Qaeda
by MARGARET COKER and CHARLES LEVINSON
ADEN, Yemen -- As the U.S. and Britain pledge fresh military assistance for Yemen, the man in charge of one of the country's antiterror units says cumbersome bureaucracy is sapping the effectiveness of his men.
The complaint by Brig. Gen. Yahya Saleh, the nephew of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, underscores the challenges facing Washington and allied capitals as they scramble to help Yemen fight the country's homegrown terror network. The alleged Christmas Day bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has told investigators he received his explosive device and training in Yemen.
While foreign governments have offered fresh funding after the failed attack, Yemeni officials insist they won't let foreign troops participate in the battle. That leaves the real fighting to Yemen's security forces.
Gen. Saleh says his troops are up to the task. But he also says his men and other forces often are hampered by organizational shortcomings that might lessen the impact of foreign training and funding.
More from the Wall Street Journal's interview with Brig. Gen. Yahya Saleh:
"Al Qaeda is few in number but they are very dangerous. We have started the fight, but we haven't won, not even close," says Gen. Saleh. "We need to sustain this fight because now al Qaeda is out for revenge."
* * *
Yemen's problem with al Qaeda has gotten much worse due to the war in Iraq, says the general. Yemeni jihadis who went there to fight and have returned here are returning more hardened, with new tactics that include complex suicide bombings. "The Iraqi style is very tough. Those men [who returned] are more bloodthirsty than those who never left Yemen," says Gen. Saleh.
* * *
One of the complexities of fighting the terrorist organization, he says, is that Yemen does not have a law criminalizing religious preachers who foment violence. "The law says I can go after those who pick up guns against the state, but not the ones who agitate and fill up the minds of our young with brainwashing hate speech. I think that is a problem," he says. "We must fight those who are in the military wing and the ideological wing."
* * *
Gen. Saleh says the government is doing a poor job winning the hearts and minds campaign against rural youth, who comprise the bulk of al Qaeda ranks. "Building a few roads or schools is not going to do it," he says. "Youth in the provinces are unemployed and bored. We need to give them jobs and job security, big infrastructure programs, maybe."
"The bureaucracy is a nightmare," said Gen. Saleh, sitting in a crisply starched khaki uniform in his office on a training base in the port city of Aden.
The Ministry of Interior, under which his antiterror unit falls, doesn't control air assets of its own, for example. When Gen. Saleh's forces need helicopters, he must request them from the country's air force, controlled by the Ministry of Defense.
"If no one in the air force answers their phone, I can't get a helicopter that day," he said.
Gen. Saleh is the chief of staff for Yemen's Central Security Forces, which includes everything from police to emergency services. Also under his command is a 200-strong counterterrorism unit.
The unit was set up by the Ministry of Interior in 2002, in the wake of the USS Cole bombing. It is one of three special units trained by U.S. and U.K. special forces to deal with armed militant groups in the country. The other two units are led by the son of the president and another nephew, respectively.
Gen. Saleh said recent operations have dented al Qaeda's infrastructure. But the terror network has gained a foothold in at least five of Yemen's 20 governates, he said.
In the fall, suspected militants kidnapped one of Gen. Saleh's officers in the remote Shebwa province and later assassinated him, sending a recording of the killing to his offices, according to the general.
During a training exercise last week outside the capital, San'a, soldiers from a company of Gen. Saleh's unit blasted human-shaped targets with AK-47s. They sprinted up a dusty track lugging propane tanks and stormed a cinderblock building sheltering mock al Qaeda militants.
Soldiers in the unit said four British and four U.S. soldiers currently were training their company. The U.S. and British trainers focus on fundamentals, such as physical fitness and shooting techniques, as well as basic infantry tactics such as how to raid and clear a house, the Yemeni soldiers said.
On the morning of the exercise, the soldiers said their U.S. and British trainers woke them up at dawn and ran them around their base. Then, they headed out to the training ground, tucked away in a barren and rocky valley on the outskirts of the capital.
The presence of the Western trainers is a sensitive issue in Yemen, where polls consistently show the highest levels of anti-Americanism in the Arab and Islamic world. The Yemeni soldiers said the U.S. and British trainers disappeared just before journalists arrived, so as not to be photographed and draw attention to their presence on the ground in Yemen.
"There is no doubt that we have all benefited a lot from the training," said a 14-year veteran sergeant. The U.S. and British involvement "is purely training, so there is no problem. When it is time to fight, we go on our own," he said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in San'a didn't return phone calls seeking comment. A representative of the British Embassy wasn't reachable Sunday.
Gen. Saleh's ground forces led two raids last week against an alleged al Qaeda cell located in the Arhab region, approximately 40 miles north of the capital.
Highlighting the complexity of such operations, local tribesmen criticized the government for what they said was excessive force, and for targeting what they said were tribal leaders meeting to arrange a handover of militants.
Gen. Saleh said his men were working on credible intelligence, and he says he hasn't arrested any innocent men.
From Granny to Nearly Nude Germans, Everyone's Raising Cane at the Airport
Blades Hidden in Walking Sticks Stun Owners; Full-Body Scans Set Off a Protest in Berlin
by MATT PHILLIPS
Saeed Sanjideh decided to take the cane with the lion's head on top.
The retired deli owner was traveling from San Jose, Calif., to visit his nephew in the Seattle area and figured the embellished walking stick befitted a special occasion.
"This one was fancy," said Mr. Sanjideh, 78 years old.
But as Transportation Security Administration officers examined the cane, they discovered it had a special feature hidden within: a 16-inch sword.
"It was so interesting," Mr. Sanjideh said of the cane, which his wife bought for him at a flea market. "I didn't know it had a sword in it."
Airport police were cautious. They questioned him until they finally decided that he didn't pose a security threat. He was eventually allowed to board his flight, though his walking stick -- along with its mysterious contents -- was confiscated.
The Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit has already resulted in beefed up safety measures -- and prompted debate about the use of body scanners and other sophisticated weapons-detectors. Sunday, protesters from the Pirate Party of Germany went so far as to walk through Berlin's Tegel Airport in their underwear to protest all-seeing body scanners, which Germany plans to test later this year. The hope, of course, is that enhanced screening methods will keep potential terrorists off flights. But what about those folks who unwittingly bear arms?
Since 2002, TSA screeners have found more than 200 canes concealing either swords or knives. Many of these incidents involve elderly travelers who are just as surprised as the security screeners to find sabers hidden inside canes they may have inherited, found at antique shops, or received from charities. In September alone, four such incidents occurred according to documents provided by the TSA.
"The passengers who travel with these unusual items are often surprised to discover that a prohibited item is concealed inside," says Lauren Gaches, a spokeswoman for the TSA. "However, it is important that our officers identify modified canes to ensure they are not carried on board an aircraft."
On Sept. 15, an X-ray machine operator at San Diego International Airport discerned the outline of a 2 1/2-inch knife concealed in a cane. "The passenger stated that he bought the cane online and had no idea the knife was inside. The knife was removed from the cane and passenger was allowed to keep the cane," a TSA report said. That same day, when another woman's walking stick was found to contain a 13-inch sword at Philadelphia International, she explained that "her doctor recommended she use one and she just borrowed the prettiest one she found from a friend."
Recently, TSA officials at San Antonio International Airport informed a woman that her cane contained a double-sided metal blade more than 2 feet long. "She stated that she didn't realize that her walking cane contained a sword and that she has had it for 30 years," an incident report said.
Toting weaponry to the airport, accidentally or not, is a recipe for trouble. Yet it happens with surprising regularity. Some 12 firearms were found at TSA checkpoints during the week of Dec. 27 to Jan. 3, according to the latest weekly statistics published on the agency's Web site. The TSA also discovered four prohibited items that were "artfully concealed." The agency uses that term of art to describe prohibited, and potentially dangerous, things that are camouflaged.
During the Middle Ages, members of the nobility carried walking sticks with blades on pilgrimages. And at the peak of cane popularity, in the 19th century, men would have an array of canes including so-called defense canes. Romantic poet Lord Byron wrote about carrying one in an 1816 diary entry describing a mountain hike. "Guide wanted to carry my cane; I was going to give it to him when I recollected that it was a swordstick and I thought the lightning might be attracted toward him; kept it myself."
Over time, canes grew more complex, featuring spring-mounted stilettos and handles that squirted "vitriol," or acid, in the eyes of would-be assailants. France was a leader in the production of such items, featured in catalogs with names such as "La Terrible" and "La Diabolique." Despite such monikers, sword canes probably didn't see much violent action in those days either, says Henry Taron, an antique-cane dealer in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.
"The sword cane was more to be brandished," says Mr. Taron. "I doubt there was much running-through with sword canes."
In December 2008, Connie Escareno, an 85-year-old former state worker, found herself sitting in a wheelchair facing several police officers at western New York's Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Her cane was on a nearby desk. One of the officers picked up the walking stick, which Ms. Escareno said she had found a few years back at a Catholic charity in Camarillo, Calif., where she lived. The police officer removed some tape, twisted the handle, and gave the cane a shake. From its base, an 18-inch blade emerged. "I thought, 'What the heck is going on,'" Ms. Escareno recalled. "I had no idea."
After a brief conversation with police officers from Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which runs the airport, Ms. Escareno -- who passed away in March -- convinced the officers that she was unaware of any blade inside. In any case, "It was very dull," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, director of public relations for the NFTA. "It wasn't like a sharpened Marine saber or anything."
Some who've inadvertently spirited complex canes into airports wonder whether they might able to recover the contraband. "It was beautiful," said Lori Massaro, describing a walking stick with a gold handle that she'd brought for her mother to carry on a trip from Fort Myers, Fla., to New York. Ms. Massaro, who was traveling with her mother in December 2008, had placed the cane on the X-ray belt. The pair were questioned closely by a female security officer. "She said to me, 'I don't want to hear any stories, people get locked up for this, this is not a laughing matter.' " The two were permitted to board their flight -- sans cane.
Ms. Gaches, the TSA spokeswoman, had no direct knowledge of the exchange. The agency, she says, has a "highly trained work force whose mission is to ensure the safety of the traveling public."
Of course, getting to the gate can be problematic for unsteady seniors without their canes. A wheelchair was produced for Mr. Sanjideh, of San Jose, after his sword cane was confiscated. And once he reached Seattle, his nephew's wife bought him a new -- if less sharp-looking -- walking stick. Upon receiving it, he took a peek to see if it contained any secret compartments. "But there was nothing to open," he said.
Let's Take Bureaucracy Out of Intelligence
Groupthink products like National Intelligence Estimates make us vulnerable.
by JOHN BOLTON
Although the U.S. intelligence community (IC) has been stung by failures relating to the Christmas terrorist attack, these failures are symptomatic of far larger problems. In analyzing the ongoing Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, both the IC and policy makers are guilty of politicizing intelligence, exactly the behavior harshly criticized during the Bush administration.
Now, however, the politicization threat dwells inside the IC, especially in the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) bureaucracy. Policy officials move in and out of intelligence jobs as if those jobs were interchangeable, carrying all their existing policy biases. Even worse, intelligence officers increasingly disdain to hide their philosophical proclivities, which have colored their intelligence analysis in years past. And, like generals refighting the last war to correct their mistakes, the IC is reacting against charges it overstated the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by understating the threat of Iranian and North Korean weapons programs. So much for the wall of separation between policy and intelligence.
Ill-concealed policy preferences dominated the now-discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear weapons program. So eager were the NIE's drafters to forestall the use of force against Iran that they distorted the intelligence, ignored contrary evidence, and overstated their conclusions.
We are still paying the price for this bureaucratic insurrection, as information emerges about Iran's extensive efforts to conceal its nuclear program. Recent reports, for example, show that Qom is far from Iran's only hardened underground enrichment facility. So much is unknown about Iran's progress that the administration's confident estimates about the time available to engage in fruitless negotiations work in Tehran's favor.
Similarly, A.Q. Khan, proliferation's pre-eminent entrepreneur, reportedly believes that Pyongyang's clandestine uranium-enrichment began earlier and made more progress than many previously acknowledged. This and other new information, as recently explained by South Korea's foreign minister, runs counter to the biases of officials who have tried to minimize the risk from Pyongyang to justify six-party talks. Instead, it suggests that the North's repeated pledges to end its nuclear weapons program have been utterly worthless.
The Christmas terrorist attack demonstrates that we need more effective communication and analysis within the IC. Achieving this goal does not require more centralization of authority, more hierarchy, and more uniformity of opinion. The IC's problem stems from a culture of anonymous conformity. Greater centralization will only reinforce existing bureaucratic obstacles to providing decision makers with a full range of intelligence analysis.
The problem is often not the intelligence we collect, but assessing its implications. Solving that problem requires not the mind-deadening exercise of achieving bureaucratic consensus, but creating a culture that rewards insight and decisiveness. To create that culture we should abolish the DNI office and NIEs.
Eliminating the DNI should be accompanied by reversing decades of inadequate National Security Council supervision of the intelligence function. The council is an awesome instrument for presidential control over the IC, but only if the national security adviser and others exercise direction and control. Sloughing off responsibility to the bureaucracy embodying the problem is a failure of presidential leadership, and unfortunately gives us exactly the IC we deserve.
Contemporary NIEs (and other IC products) reflect the bureaucracy's lowest-common-denominator tendencies and should be abolished. Each intelligence agency should be able to place its analysis of data into a competitive marketplace of classified ideasthis will help determine which is the superior product.
Finally, the real debatable issue is often not intelligence or analysis, but the inescapably political judgment of how much risk to our national security we are willing to tolerate. Today, the Obama administration's level of risk tolerance for potential terrorists and proliferators is far too high. Changing that doesn't just mean fixing the IC. It means fixing the White House.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
From the Washington Times
N. Korea calls for peace talks, end to sanctions
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea proposed Monday that a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War be signed this year, saying a return to negotiations on its nuclear program depends on better relations with Washington and the lifting of sanctions.
The North has long demanded a peace treaty, but President Barack Obama's special envoy for human rights in North Korea said in Seoul on Monday that the communist regime must improve its "appalling" human rights record before any normalization of relations.
Washington and Pyongyang have never had diplomatic relations because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, thus leaving the peninsula technically at war. North Korea, the U.S.-led United Nations Command and China signed a cease-fire, but South Korea never did.
The United States has resisted signing a treaty with North while it possesses nuclear weapons. Washington has said, however, that the subject can be discussed within the framework of six-nation negotiations aimed at ridding Pyongyang of atomic weapons. Those talks have not been held for more than a year.
But the North indicated Monday it won't rejoin the nuclear forum until talks begin on a peace treaty. The communist country pulled out of the nuclear talks last year to protest international sanctions imposed for its launch of a long-range missile.
South Korea is also suspicious of the North's calls for a peace treaty, calls for which Seoul has said are a tactic to delay its denuclearization.
The North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the absence of a peace treaty is a "root cause of the hostile relations" with the U.S. The ministry called for a peace treaty to be signed this year, which it emphasized marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.
"The conclusion of the peace treaty will help terminate the hostile relations between (North Korea) and the U.S. and positively promote the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula at a rapid tempo," the statement said.
The proposal comes after a landmark visit to North last month by Stephen Bosworth, Obama's special envoy for the country. Bosworth said after his trip that the North agreed on the necessity of returning to the talks, though the country has not said when it would rejoin them.
"This appears to be an overture by the North Koreans to try and, in their own way, break through the logjam that we have seen for more than a year now in the (six-party) talks," said Peter Beck, an expert on North Korea currently conducting research at Stanford University.
During the talks, North Korea had agreed to disarm in exchange for economic aid, security assurances and diplomatic recognition.
North Korea also suggested that the withdrawal of sanctions could lead to a speedy resumption of the talks.
"The removal of the barrier of such discrimination and distrust as sanctions may soon lead to the opening of the six-party talks," the North's statement said.
Robert King, Obama's special envoy for human rights in North Korea, harshly criticized the communist country Monday and said that the situation is preventing a normalization of relations.
"It's one of the worst places in terms of lack of human rights," King told reporters after meeting South Korea's foreign minister. "The situation is appalling."
He added, "Improved relations between the United States and North Korea will have to involve greater respect for human rights by North Korea."
North Korea holds some 154,000 political prisoners in six large camps across the country, according to South Korean government estimates. Pyongyang denies the existence of prison camps and often reacts strongly to foreign criticism regarding human rights.
Interagency gaps let bomb suspect retain visa
by Nicholas Kralev
U.S. visa-revocation procedures broke down in a welter of interagency uncertainty in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a failure that current and former officials say allowed the Nigerian Islamist known to U.S. intelligence to board an airliner with a homemade bomb on Christmas Day.
However, the visa shortcomings were not the main focus of President Obama's recent comments on the security and intelligence failures related to the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.
"The system isn't broken, but what failed fundamentally in this case was the lack of focus on the potential threat threads tied to attack-planning directed at the United States," said Juan Zarate, who was a counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush. He is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"That's not a technological problem this was a failure of forcing the existing system to concentrate on the potential reality of that threat," he said.
While some critics blame the State Department, which has full authority to cancel visas without permission from other agencies, others say the intelligence community should have recommended revocation based on information it had but the State Department did not.
John R. Bolton, who in the Bush administration was undersecretary of state for international security and later ambassador to the United Nations, said the "allocation of responsibilities on visas between [the Departments of] State, Homeland Security and [the National Counterterrorism Center] has not worked out, although different people blame different agencies."
Mr. Obama conceded that an interagency problem exists when he said Thursday that he had directed "our embassies and consulates to include current visa information in their warnings of individuals with terrorist or suspected terrorist ties."
The reason for the president's instructions was the failure of the embassy in Nigeria, where Mr. Abdulmutallab's father reported his links to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in November, to check whether he had a valid U.S. visa, and to include that information in the message it sent to Washington, officials said.
"We are looking at better ways to share information, and we are asking other members of the [national security] community how we can do things better," said Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management who oversees the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Even though Mr. Abdulmutallab's latest visa was issued by the embassy in London, where he studied in 2008, all U.S. missions around the world have access to the same database. In addition, he had a visa issued in Nigeria in 2006, said Mr. Kennedy, a career diplomat who was appointed to his current position by Mr. Bush's secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.
When the State Department sent its initial message about the meeting with Mr. Abdulmutallab's father to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), it did not include visa information, either. Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Abdulmutallab's last name was misspelled in that message, but it was not clear whether a visa check on him was performed at all.
The misspelling omitting "d" in Abdulmutallab was discovered within a few days, and a new message was sent to NCTC, which finally mentioned the valid visa, Mr. Kennedy said. The NCTC determined that "the information was insufficient to make a judgment" about revoking the visa, which is why the State Department did nothing, he said.
Mr. Obama said there was enough information, but the dots were not connected.
"The U.S. government had the information scattered throughout the system to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack," he said. "Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had."
At the time Mr. Abdulmutallab applied for his visas, he was subjected to the strict rules and requirements implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but there was no information linking him to terrorist groups, so his applications were approved, officials said.
Jess Ford of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' investigative arm, who wrote a 2004 report on the visa-revocation process, said the State Department "has the authority to revoke visas" without permission from other agencies, but it "relies heavily on law-enforcement and intelligence people to provide information" on which to base such decisions.
Mr. Kennedy said that, "unless the evidence [against a visa holder] is absolutely overwhelming,"the State Department follows the interagency process. "If we get partial information, we seek more information from the intelligence community. Maybe they don't want us to revoke the visa because they are following the guy" or they want him to come to the U.S. so they can arrest him, he said.
Mr. Ford's GAO report from five years ago said that "weaknesses remained in the implementation of the revocation process, especially in the timely transmission of information among federal agencies." It also found that the State Department took months in some cases "to revoke visas after receiving a recommendation to do so."
Mr. Kennedy said things have improved significantly since 2004, and revocations are now processed immediately, including "in the middle of the night and on weekends."
He said another area that needs improvement is how the government notifies commercial airlines about revoked visas, so they keep holders of such visas off U.S.-bound planes. In the case of a terrorist, his name is usually put on the "no fly" list as soon as the revocation is processed, but not all canceled visas belong to known terrorists.
Sometimes the government does not learn that a passenger with a revoked visa is headed to the U.S. until the airline sends the flight manifest, and by then the traveler already could have a boarding pass or even be in the air, as was the case with Mr. Abdulmutallab.
"With growing concern about the reach from al Qaeda in Yemen, and perhaps other regional satellites, it's imperative for the State Department to ensure our visa-processing and vetting processes are as secure and nimble as possible," Mr. Zarate said.
Athletes packing heat or Arenas' gun
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Size doesn't matter if you're a big, strong sports star being stalked or targeted by miscreants. That's why many celebrity athletes need to carry guns for protection.
For example, most people wouldn't think Eddy Curry, the 6-foot-11-inch, 285-pound millionaire New York Knicks center, would need to worry about having his home broken into. Yet in July 2007, he and family members were bound with duct tape while three masked robbers made off with cash and jewelry.
This issue is front-and-center of the sports and law-enforcement worlds now because Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas was suspended indefinitely without pay on Wednesday for bringing a gun into his team's locker room. There's no excuse for his behavior, in which he reportedly placed handguns on a chair out in the open, but there are plenty of good reasons for professional athletes to arm themselves.
The wealth and high public profile of basketball players make them attractive targets. "It can be a repairman, a cable guy, it can be anybody. And all they have to do is just relay the message to the wrong person on where you live," 6-foot-10 inch, 225-pound Bulls forward Joe Smith explained to the Chicago Tribune.
An Internet search reveals five cases of basketball players being robbed from 2005 to 2008. With just 450 players in the NBA, these numbers show a robbery rate of 280 per 100,000 people. This is compared to 145 per 100,000 for the rest of the U.S. population. That means NBA players were robbed at about twice the rate of the rest of the country.
These attacks tend to be more brutal and perpetrated by larger gangs than typical robberies, most likely because assailants are prepared to subdue strong victims. All the robberies committed against NBA players from 2005 to 2008 involved at least two attackers. By contrast, lone crooks commit the overwhelming majority of robberies in America.
Other celebrity athletes face similar dangers. From 2005 to 2008, the murder rate for NFL players was about six times that of the general U.S. population. Two years ago, Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was trying to defend himself with a machete when he was shot and killed by an intruder in his home.
Last week, MSNBC host Ed Schultz and Rev. Al Sharpton called for players to be forbidden to own guns or to undergo counseling to convince them to stop having them. Those who are against Americans being able to defend themselves are the ones who should have their heads examined.
It's the visas, stupid
by Joel Mowbray
Tucked away in a single paragraph near the end of the declassified preliminary report on the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack is the key fact glossed over by most in media and the government: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a valid visa when he boarded his Detroit-bound flight.
Whether or not "dots" had been "connected," Mr. Abdulmutallab never could have come as close as he did to successful mass murder had the State Department immediately revoked the man's visa when his father first raised concerns. Without a valid visa, the young Nigerian would not have been en route to the United States in the first place.
All the more maddening is that this is precisely the lesson we learned from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists, none of whom actually qualified for the visas that were nonetheless issued to them. Yet eight years later, the State Department has barely budged its default position that visas are to be issued unless they have a clear reason to deny applications.
Even though Mr. Abdulmutallab's father told U.S. Embassy officials on Nov. 18 that he feared his son might have terrorist intentions, the al Qaeda operative retained his privilege to enter the U.S.
While the initial visa issuance to Mr. Abdulmutallab might well have been legitimate - he is, after all, well-educated and from a successful family - the fact that his visa was not immediately revoked is beyond baffling.
Although a misspelling of the young Nigerian's name prevented State from identifying his still-valid visa, the report further notes that the father's warnings would not have been sufficient cause to rescind it. According to the report, "A determination to revoke his visa, however, would have only occurred if there had been a successful integration of intelligence by the CT [counter terrorism] community, resulting in his being watchlisted."
This suicidally legalistic approach does not owe to President Obama or previous political leadership, but rather to the long-held institutional mindset of the State Department. Using a questionable legal interpretation, State's position has been that a visa must be issued to qualified applicants, with denials only possible with specific, credible proof that someone can be deemed a security threat.
But unlike in a court of law, foreigners wishing to enter the U.S. should not be presumed innocent. Moreover, denial of the privilege to come to the U.S. is not reviewable, and it can be made unilaterally by State. Yet it is State who pushes to issue visas to those who raise red flags, but don't quite belong on the terrorist watchlist.
The Department of Homeland Security, which holds partial regulatory authority over visa policy, has had running battles with State over visa issuance. Law enforcement-minded DHS officials believe in erring on the side of security, while State again and again has sided with foreigners seeking access to the United States.
As part of this larger power struggle, DHS has been thwarted in many of its attempts to open Visa Screening Units (VSUs), which were mandated for every visa-issuing post as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Nearly eight years later, there are only 14 VSUs, or fewer than 10 percent of all embassies and consulates. There is no VSU in Nigeria, even though DHS has wanted to establish one.
Lack of funding is partly to blame, but several ambassadors have successfully rebuffed efforts to create VSUs in their countries - fearing that enhanced security enforcement would slow visa processing, angering local government officials.
State shouldn't need encouragement to understand the crucial role of visas for foreign terrorists who wish to strike on U.S. soil. As we learned from the Sept. 11 Commission report, al Qaeda wasn't even able to recruit 30 operatives for Sept. 11. Their good fortune - and our tragedy - was that they recruited mostly in Saudi Arabia, a country which enjoyed 98 percent visa approval rates before Sept. 11.
What the Sept. 11 Commission acknowledged - but strangely shrugged off as insignificant - was that not one of the terrorists actually qualified for the visas that they all received. (Four of the application forms were destroyed by regular policy before Sept. 11.) In other words, had the visa law been followed, at least 15 of the terrorists wouldn't have gained entry to the United States in order to carry out the attacks.
Yet with that painful history, State's sole response to the warnings from Mr. Abdulmutallab's father was to "nominate" the young Muslim fanatic for inclusion on the terrorist watchlist. While this led to him being named a "possible terrorist," State's policy is to deny or revoke visas only for known terrorists.
And while it is welcome that Mr. Obama has ordered a review of "visa issuance and revocation criteria," a more decisive step must be taken.
Any probable cause of terrorist connections needs to result in visa denials and revocations unless the evidence can be disproved or reasonably deemed illegitimate. Even when we have no specific information, as was the case with most of the Sept. 11 terrorists, State should enforce the visa laws as strictly with young Muslim men from known terrorist hotspots as it does with poor (or even middle-class) Filipinos.
But for State to enforce existing law and err on the side of security, the department must undergo a complete about-face from its current operating procedures. If Mr. Obama is as serious as he purports to be, however, he must demand nothing less.
Joel Mowbray is an investigative journalist living in New York City.
From Fox News
In Hasan Case, Superiors Ignored Their Worries
Monday , January 11, 2010
A Defense Department review of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, has found the doctors overseeing Maj. Nidal Hasan's medical training repeatedly voiced concerns over his strident views on Islam and his inappropriate behavior, yet continued to give him positive performance evaluations that kept him moving through the ranks.
The picture emerging from the review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates is one of supervisors who failed to heed their own warnings about an officer ill-suited to be an Army psychiatrist, according to information examined by investigators conducting the study.
Hasan, 39, is accused of murdering 13 people on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, the worst killing spree on a U.S. military base.
What remains unclear is why Hasan would be advanced in spite of all the worries over his competence. That is likely to be the subject of a more detailed accounting by the department. Recent statistics show the Army rarely blocks junior officers from promotion, especially in the medical corps.
Hasan showed no signs of being violent or a threat. But parallels have been drawn between the missed signals in his case and those preceding the thwarted Christmas attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner. President Barack Obama and his top national security aides have acknowledged they had intelligence about the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but failed to connect the dots.
The Defense Department review is not intended to delve into allegations Hasan corresponded by e-mail with Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki before the attack. Those issues are part of a separate criminal investigation by law enforcement officials.
In telling episodes from the latter stages of lengthy Hasan's medical education in the Washington, D.C., area, he gave a class presentation questioning whether the U.S.-led war on terror was actually a war on Islam. And students said he suggested that Shariah, or Islamic law, trumped the Constitution and he attempted to justify suicide bombings, according to the information reviewed by The Associated Press.
Yet no one in Hasan's chain of command appears to have challenged his eligibility to hold a secret security clearance even though they could have because the statements raised doubt about his loyalty to the United States. Had they, Hasan's fitness to serve as an Army officer may have been called into question long before he reported to Fort Hood.
Instead, in July 2009, Hasan arrived in central Texas, his secret clearance intact, his reputation as a weak performer well known, and Army authorities believing that posting him at such a large facility would mask his shortcomings.
Four months later, according to witnesses, he walked into a processing center at Fort Hood where troops undergo medical screening, jumped on a table with two handguns, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" Arabic for "God is great!" and opened fire. Thirteen people were killed in the spree and dozens more were wounded.
Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He remains at a San Antonio military hospital, undergoing rehabilitation for paralysis stemming from gunshot wounds suffered when security guards fired back during the massacre. Authorities have not said whether they plan to seek the death penalty.
After the Fort Hood shooting, Gates appointed two former senior defense officials to examine the procedures and policies for identifying threats within the military services. The review, led by former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Navy Adm. Vernon Clark, began Nov. 20 and is scheduled to be delivered to Gates by Jan. 15.
Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the West-Clark review because it's not complete. "We will not know the specific content of the report until it is submitted to the secretary of defense," he said.
Hasan's superiors had a full picture of him, developed over his 12-year career as a military officer, medical student and psychiatrist, according to the information reviewed by AP.
While in medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences from 1997 to 2003, Hasan received a string of below average and failing grades, was put on academic probation and showed little motivation to learn.
He took six years to graduate from the university in Bethesda, Maryland, instead of the customary four, according to the school. The delays were due in part to the deaths of his father in 1998 and his mother in 2001. Yet the information about his academic probation and bad grades wasn't included in his military personnel file, leaving the impression he was ready for more intense instruction.
In June 2003, Hasan started a four-year psychiatry internship and residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and he was counseled frequently for deficiencies in his performance. Teachers and colleagues described him as a below average student.
Between 2003 and 2007, Hasan's supervisors expressed their concerns with him in memos, meeting notes and counseling sessions. He needed steady monitoring, especially in the emergency room, had difficulty communicating and working with colleagues, his attendance was spotty and he saw few patients.
In one incident already made public, a patient of Hasan's with suicidal and homicidal tendencies walked out of the hospital without permission.
Still, Hasan's officer evaluation reports were consistently more positive, usually describing his performance as satisfactory and at least twice as outstanding. Known as "OERs," the reports are used to determine promotions and assignments. The Army promoted Hasan to captain in 2003 and to major in 2009.
At Walter Reed, Hasan's conflict with his Islamic faith and his military service became more apparent to superiors and colleagues, according to the information. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a trip expected of all Muslims at least once. But he was also cited for inappropriately engaging patients in discussions about religious issues.
Early in 2007, Maj. Scott Moran became director of psychiatry residency and took a much firmer line with Hasan. Moran reprimanded him for not being reachable when he was supposed to be on-call, developed a plan to improve his performance, and informed him his research project about the internal conflicts of Muslim soldiers was inappropriate.
Nonetheless, Hasan presented the project, entitled "Koranic World View as It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military," and it was approved as meeting a residency program requirement, according to the information.
Hasan graduated from the Walter Reed residency program and began a two-year fellowship in preventive and disaster psychiatry. Despite his earlier reservations, Moran wrote a solid reference letter for Hasan that said he was a competent doctor.
Reached by telephone, Moran declined to comment.
Hasan completed the fellowship June 30, 2009. Two weeks later he was at Fort Hood.
Husband of Missing Utah Mom to Move Family to Washington State
Sunday , January 10, 2010
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah
The husband of a missing Utah woman was moving out of the couple's home in a Salt Lake City suburb to Washington state Saturday, and police said they couldn't prevent the move.
West Valley City Police have named Josh Powell the only person of interest in the Dec. 7 disappearance of Susan Powell, but he has not been named a suspect.
"We cannot and are not limiting his ability to move freely," police Capt. Tom McLachlan told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Susan Powell has been missing since Dec. 7. She was last seen by her husband, who said he left on a winter camping trip with the couple's children at about 12:30 a.m. that day.
"He has not been cooperating with us very much up to this point," McLachlan said. He said they're watching the move, "and we're interested in it, but we can't prevent it."
McLachlan declined to comment on whether his department has been in contact with Washington state authorities.
Asked by reporters if he wanted to say anything before he briefly left his home around noon Saturday, Josh Powell replied "no." Powell has not said specifically where he is moving. His father and Susan Powell's parents live in Puyallup, a city south of Seattle where the couple met.
Powell's sister, Jennifer Graves, told KUTV on Friday that she was disappointed about her brother's decision to move.
"We are supposed to be focused on trying to find Susan and I think his place is here with us in Salt Lake, looking for Susan," she said.
Friends said Powell has been fired as a computer programmer for a trucking and warehousing company and may be financially unable to keep the home.
"Without a normal income and Susan's income, there's no way he can hang onto the house," neighbor Ron Stagg, who helped with the move, told the Deseret News.
Following Susan Powell's disappearance, friends and family said the couple were having marital difficulties and undergoing counseling. Court records show the couple had declared bankruptcy.
Israel to Build Fences on Egyptian Border
Monday , January 11, 2010
Israel will construct fences on its long and porous southern desert border with Egypt in a bid to halt a growing flood of African refugees and asylum seekers who have poured into the Jewish state in recent years, officials said Monday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said two fences would run along parts of the 150-mile southern border with Egypt.
"This is a strategic decision to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement. "Israel will remain open to war refugees but we cannot allow thousands of illegal workers to infiltrate into Israel via the southern border and flood our country."
The two fences will cover a total of 70 miles. One will be in southwest Israel, near the Gaza Strip town of Rafah. The other will be built near the Red Sea port city of Eilat.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said government ministers approved the plan Sunday evening. He said a date hasn't been set for construction. The project is expected to cost about $400 million, according to local media.
Israel, a relatively affluent Western society, is a popular destination for African refugees and job seekers fleeing war-wrecked and impoverished countries.
The influx has created a dilemma for authorities. On one hand, the new arrivals strain Israel's social service system and upset the country's demographic mix, possibly tilting it away from a Jewish majority. About three-quarters of Israel's 7 million citizens are Jewish.
On the other hand, Israel is a country created in large part as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution, and many feel they cannot turn their backs on the Africans, believing the government must be more sensitive to their needs.
Israel's policy toward the asylum seekers has been muddled, with frequent changes in rules and procedures.
At present, Africans who cross into Israel through Egypt are detained for several months in a nearby prison while their applications are processed.
Most are eventually given one-month visas to stay in Israel that they must renew every month, said Yonatan Berman of the Migrants Hotline, an advocacy group that helps the asylum seekers. They are not allowed to work, but the government turns a blind eye, and most find low-skilled jobs like dishwashers and hotel bell boys across the country.
Israeli police say 100 to 200 Africans enter illegally through Egypt each week. Around 19,000 asylum have poured into Israel since 2005. But there are thousands more foreign workers who have overstayed their permits. Many live in crowded slums in Tel Aviv or in the southern border town of Eilat.
Israel requested Egypt tighten its border patrols and since then many African migrants have been shot and killed by Egyptian police trying to sneak through.
Both countries have been criticized by human rights groups for their approach to the problem.
The relatively low-tech barrier will include radars to detect human movement.
Security and crime concerns have also prompted Israel to erect the fences. Smugglers use the porous area to traffic women into Israel's prostitution trade, and it's also a main conduit for drugs entering the country.
U.S. Envoy: N. Korean Human Rights 'Appalling'
Monday , January 11, 2010
SEOUL, South Korea
North Korea's 'appalling' human rights situation must improve before the country can expect to normalize relations with the United States, President Barack Obama's special envoy on the issue said Monday.
In comments certain to anger North Korea, Robert King blasted its human rights record as a U.S. citizen remains under detention for crossing into the communist country last month without permission.
"It's one of the worst places in terms of lack of human rights," King told reporters after meeting South Korea's foreign minister. "The situation is appalling."
King said that is preventing the normalization of ties between Washington and Pyongyang, which have never had diplomatic relations and remain locked in a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
"Improved relations between the United States and North Korea will have to involve greater respect for human rights by North Korea," he said.
King, a former staff director on the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, is on his first visit overseas as special envoy for North Korean human rights. The position was created in 2005 by Congress to raise the issue of human rights and provide assistance to refugees fleeing North Korea.
King plans to travel to Japan on Friday. He has no plans to visit North Korea, though said he would be "happy to go" if Pyongyang invited him.
King called on North Korea to release the U.S. citizen it is holding, but acknowledged that Washington had little information on the person.
"We are actively working to find out where he is being held and to urge that he be released," King said. "We have requested that our protecting power in Pyongyang determine his condition and we have not heard yet what that is."
In the absence of diplomatic relations, Sweden represents the United States in North Korea.
North Korea announced late last month that it was holding a U.S. citizen for "illegally entering" the country through the North Korea-China border, though did not elaborate. He is widely believed to be Robert Park, an American missionary who South Korean activists say crossed into the country over a frozen river several days earlier to raise the issue of human rights in the North.
King declined to say whether Washington believes Park is the one being held, citing privacy issues and State Department regulations.
North Korea has long been regarded as having one of the world's worst human rights records. The country holds some 154,000 political prisoners in six large camps across the country, according to South Korean government estimates.
Pyongyang denies the existence of prison camps and often reacts strongly to foreign criticism regarding human rights.
Asked if the U.S. plans to make human rights an agenda item at six-nation talks aimed at achieving the North's denuclearization, King said Washington planned to raise the issue with North Korea at the forum.
"We will hold bilateral discussions in the context of the six-party talks, he said, referring to a U.S.-North Korea subgroup that is part of the forum.
North Korea quit the six-nation talks, which began in 2003, last year, though has suggested it may eventually return. They involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Separately, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations' special investigator on human rights in North Korea, kicked off a six-day visit to South Korea to meet government officials, civic activists and North Korean defectors.